£2m supercomputer plays vital role in supporting global COVID-19 research

The University of Hull’s Viper HPC is helping to combat disease through the global Folding@home project

Viper, a multi-million-pound high-performance computer (HPC) at the University of Hull, is helping researchers around the world better understand and tackle the spread of COVID-19 as part of a global COVID-19 research project.

The university has partnered up with HPC specialist OCF to support COVID-19 research as part of the global ‘Folding@home’ project.

Viper is able to download and process bitesize chunks of huge computer simulations… results can be accessed by researchers across the world – Chris Collins, research systems manager, University of Hull

Chris Collins, research systems manager at the University of Hull, said: “Using spare compute capacity on Viper – which is constantly supporting other research projects within the university – is us doing our bit to help tackle COVID-19. Viper is able to download and process bitesize chunks of huge computer simulations, and the final results can then be accessed by researchers across the world.”

Using spare capacity

OCF is helping the University of Hull and other research institutions to donate any spare capacity in their existing solutions to the COVID-19 sequencing effort through Folding@home. Spare capacity can be utilised when users are not using all HPC resources and any donation of clock cycles doesn’t need to impact on any current workloads that are being worked on.

HPC is one of the most powerful tools we have in the fight against disease, giving us detailed insight into the building blocks of viruses – Russell Slack, managing director, OCF

“HPC is one of the most powerful tools we have in the fight against disease, giving us detailed insight into the building blocks of viruses,” said Russell Slack, managing director at OCF. “This is an opportunity for anyone with an x86 Slurm cluster to get involved in combating COVID-19. GPU capacity is the most sought after at this time, but all donated resources help.”

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Folding@home is a distributed computing project for simulating protein dynamics, including the process of protein folding and the movements of proteins implicated in a variety of diseases, developed by Stanford University in California to focus on disease research. The project brings together personal computers, as well as those donated by larger companies and institutions from across the world, and enables them to join together to run huge simulations to provide new opportunities for developing therapeutics and treatments for COVID-19.

The University of Hull is home to the £2m supercomputer ‘Viper’ which is helping Covid-19 research

“Breaking up and distributing large tasks across personal computers is not a new concept, with projects using this approach since the 1990s,” Collins said. “Supercomputers like Viper are normally used to tackle the grand challenges of science and engineering on their own rather than as part of distributed projects like this; however, COVID-19 has really brought computers like Viper to the forefront of the Folding@home project.”

The university’s HPC team is working hard to dedicate any resources not currently being used for university research to the project. Other OCF customers also joining the Folding@home effort include the University of Aberdeen, the University of East Anglia and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.


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